As we pass the work-from-home one-year mark, most of us still work remotely and will do so for the foreseeable future. As live trade shows and technical conferences were cancelled one after the other, virtual events became the norm. And, teleconferencing became a way of life.
While possibly overstating our role, we have the semiconductor industry – from system design through manufacturing and system integration – to thank for a long history of achievement that made the transition to working remotely relatively seamless and straightforward. The shift, in some cases, took some time to sort out as we set up a workable home office, moved to video conferencing with intermittent connections and settled into a routine. Nonetheless, many of us became more productive and, in some cases, even too productive. Each spoke in the global electronic products hub contributed through creativity and innovation with a pinch of ingenuity and grit.
Of course, we could have worked remotely 10 years ago, but not nearly as efficiently. Over the last 10 years, the economy moved to the cloud, producing new opportunities across the global market. Many of these opportunities were made possible by the electronic system supply chain and combination of semiconductor technology, electronic product innovation and people who figured how to leverage it with software platforms to tie it together. Zoom, one of our teleconferencing lifelines, is a good example, as are Netflix, our ongoing source of entertainment, and Roblox, a platform to build games. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like sourced the news for us and kept us in touch. Amazon delivered our online purchases and GrubHub brought us our takeout dinners. All rely on cloud computing with thanks to the semiconductor industry.
Another great example are data centers powered by semiconductors and the amount of data they processed last year. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), 64.2 zettabyte (ZB) of data was created or replicated due to the dramatic increase in the number of people working, learning and entertaining themselves from home. (Its revised model for global data creation and replication predicts the CAGR will grow to 23% over the 2020-2025 forecast period, a sure bet that the semiconductor industry will address ways to manage the growth, possibly through new AI chips.)
Our connectivity is driven by smartphones optimized for low power and the performance of more complex chips. Over the last 10 years, design tools have been enhanced and new methodologies have been introduced to respond to the needs of the increasing complex chips for applications that demand high bandwidth, low latency and reduced power consumption and area. Manufacturing is retooling for higher automation under smart manufacturing initiatives and packaging is even more sophisticated with increasing integration and the 2.5D and 3D packaging rollouts.
Let’s take stock of our success. The semiconductor industry has a storied tradition of breakthrough technology since its inception. The consumer electronic product craze started when the first PCs were rolled out in 1971, notes the Computer History Museum. Primitive laptops that followed in 1986 gave way to notebooks in 2007 and the ubiquitous smartphone in 2002 – and the rocket fuel for much of this was the buildout of computer networks, hyperscale datacenters and the cloud. Nothing’s been the same since.
The next time we turn on our laptop, click on the link for the latest teleconference from our remote home office in comfortable sweats sitting in our ergonomic chair, let’s take a minute to acknowledge our industry’s grand achievement. And, thank one and all for their contribution and consider what’s coming next.
About the Author
Robert (Bob) Smith is Executive Director of the ESD Alliance, a SEMI Strategic Association Partner. He is responsible for the management and operations of the ESD Alliance, an international association of companies providing goods and services throughout the semiconductor design ecosystem.